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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Converting an adversary into an ally.

Posted By: Rupa Desai Abdi and Bharti Mehta
Date: Monday, 15 May 2000, at 9:38 a.m.

In Response To: Mitigating land and water salinity problems / Saurashtra and Kutch-India. (R. Sudarshana)

That the apparently unrelated problems of fuel and fodder shortage and the encroachment of exotic weeds in coastal areas can have a single solution has been demonstrated by the Vivekanand Research and Training Institute (VRTI), an NGO based in the coastal town of Mandvi in the northern district of Kutch in the state of Gujarat.

Environmentalists and policy makers have increasingly begun to realise that women are the first to be affected by the destruction of natural resources in the rural areas of the developing nations.

Every dawn, in the semiarid coastal plains of Saurashtra (peninsular Gujarat) and Kutch, brings with it a long march in search of fuel and fodder (besides water) for the village women. As the erosion of local natural resources increases, these marches grow longer. Often children have to help out their mothers. The twin curses of environmental destruction and poverty rob the women and children of health and education opportunities.

These areas are ravaged by the chronic problems of drought and salinity ingress, which have considerably reduced the soil fertility and biomass production. While on one hand the indigenous flora of these areas is declining due to the above mentioned problems and over-exploitation, on the other hand, an exotic weed plant - Prosopis juliflora (gando baval or the mad tree), is further pushing out the local plants. This weed is a native of Mexico, and because of its remarkable tolerance to drought and salinity it was introduced into Gujarat by the State Forest Department to halt the spread of the Kutch desert. However, due to mismanagement and oversight, this aggressive weed spread into Saurashtra and Kutch like wildfire, and today it has become the dominant flora of this region, encroaching into fertile fields, forests and grasslands.

VRTI came up with a scheme, which could solve the problem of fuel and fodder shortage and check the spread of this weed. The pods of Gando baval are rich in sugar and nutrients. However, cattle cannot digest the seeds inside the pods. In addition, the wood of this plant has a high calorific value. VRTI set up a processing plant in which the pods of Gando baval were de-seeded and mixed with other cattle fodder and processed into cattle feed. The wood of Gando baval was collected and converted to charcoal. The cattle feed and charcoal were supplied to the local villages at an affordable price. Women and children were employed for collection of pods and wood of this plant.

This wise practice may be transferable to the villages around the Alang and Sosia Ship Breaking Yard (ASSBY), see also 'Industrial safety concerns in the ship breaking industry / Alang-India' by Vidyut Joshi and 'Changing social conditions and the ship breaking industry / Alang-India' by Vidyut Joshi and H.C. Dube). These villages are not much different from the coastal villages of Saurashtra and Kutch and face similar problems. In addition, due to the economic growth generated by the ASSBY, its fringe village are facing a construction boom. Many village grazing lands are being lost to concrete structures. This phenomenon is further aggravating the fodder and fuel wood shortage. It would be worth trying out the wise practice of using gando baval for fodder and fuel wood as developed by the VRTI in this area.

Ms. Rupa Desai Abdi (Natural Scientist) and Ms. Bharti Mehta (Social Scientist). Bhavnagar University Gujarat, India.

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